A Replacement for Traditional Chalkboards: Whiteboards

By Nicole Stockdale, Teachnet.com Staff

For more than a hundred years, chalkboards have been one of the definitive components of a classroom. What better way to make information accessible to students — without making 30 copies?

Many teachers believe they have found a better way — with whiteboards. There’s no more chalk dust filling classroom air, no more chalk residue on your fingers, no more clapping the erasers outside after school. Instead, glossy white boards line the walls in a growing number of classrooms.

Should you rush out to equip your classroom? Read this first.

One of the appeals of whiteboards is the ease in which you can make individual boards for your students. Like mini-chalkboards, these are great for practicing spelling words and math problems, in addition to individual work. While chalkboards were easy to make by using chalkboard paint, making the whiteboards may even be easier. You can simply buy the boards in large pieces (most come in rectangles four by eight feet) and have them cut into smaller boards. They are called white tile board, melamine, or simply whiteboards. Most teachers suggest cutting them into squares that are one foot by one foot. This way, you can get 32 good-sized boards. We checked with Lowe’s, a local home improvement store. They sell the boards for $8.99 a piece and will cut them for free.

Once you cut the individual boards, you may have rough edges. There are several ways to remedy this problem. First, see if you can talk the company from which you bought the boards into sanding them down for you at no additional charge. Make sure you let them know you are a teacher and these are for your classroom; people tend to be more charitable for educational purposes. If that doesn’t work, talk to area high school shop instructors and vocational technical facilities. They may be able to sand them down for you; it could even turn into a class project for them. You can also make use of your parents. Have volunteers help by covering the edges with colorful tape (try neon electrical tape).

The next problem is the dry erase markers. They are not nearly as cheap as chalk is, and they run out and may not last all year. For those of you using the individual whiteboards, try placing the dry erase markers on your supply list. That way, each student will be required to bring at least one in for his own use. Like any supply, keep some extras in case of emergency. And, if it is your policy, don’t be afraid to discreetly supply markers to those who can’t afford them. Like every other supply, markers will be lost or ruined. For those who chronically lose their markers, have them write on a piece of scratch paper with crayons or pencils. This usually prompts children to come to class with new markers. Also, never be afraid to ask local businesses to donate a few markers. Many have dry erase boards installed in their offices and therefore keep large supplies of markers on hand.

While many people erase their whiteboards with paper towels, you may consider adding an old, clean sock to the supply list. By using an old sock to erase the boards, you can avoid some of the scratching paper causes. This will also extend the life of your boards. In addition, students can place their markers in the socks. This, in turn, reduces the number of lost markers. Once the socks become too dirty to get the job done, send them home to be washed or replaced.

Another tip to extend the life of your whiteboards is to keep them in Ziplock storage bags, if they’ll fit. Students can slide the markers and socks in with them, which keeps everything together and easy to slide out of their desks. This also cuts down on the “desk rummaging syndrome” many students tend to suffer from while looking for supplies. If you don’t want students to keep their boards and markers in their desks, you can have them put everything in the bags, and they can put their bags in a large basket provided by you. If you write their names on the bags with permanent marker, they will be easy to find when you need them.

Whiteboards are great for the teacher, as well. One of the benefits of having large classroom dry erase boards is you can draw straight lines across them to help students practice printing and handwriting or just to give some guides or separate the boards. By using the Vis-A-Vis brand markers, usually intended for overhead projectors, you can draw to your heart’s content. By using a damp cloth, the ink comes right off. But you can write all over these marks with your dry erase markers and wipe that off with a cloth. Your “permanent” marks will stay put. There are other brands of markers, like Wet Erase, that do the same thing. You can also use these markers to write important information on the board that you don’t want erased by students or the janitors.
We do recommend, however, that you test the marker in a corner of your board before you make big changes. If your markers or boards react differently, your notes could become permanent words of wisdom.

The time will come, however, that even some of the marks made by the dry erase markers won’t come off with your cloth. First, you should try using soapy water. If this doesn’t work, there are many theories on the best remedy. We tried fingernail polish remover and WD-40, both of which worked quite well. You may be able to use rubbing alcohol, hairspray, or acetone. Someone even suggested using coffee, but that didn’t work for us. After trying these out, use regular dry erase board cleaner to remove any residue left by your cleaning solution.